Must a uniform be so boring?

13th February 2004 at 00:00
There is a certain excitement about buying school uniform for a five-year-old. It's a rite of passage, and they usually wear it quite happily. It's quite a thrill being kitted out for secondary school for the first time. It becomes less enthralling as time goes by - and can we blame our teenagers for revolting?

It's uncomfortable, it's unfashionable and it's deeply unpopular. It's too cold in winter, too warm in summer, expensive and unflattering. Pupils have no option but to customise it (just as we did to an identical uniform 40 years ago). So the girls wear their ties casually low and blouses unbuttoned, with a wee T-shirt underneath to preserve their modesty - or else to accentuate their newly acquired bosoms. Boys shred their ties, write on them and wear garish T-shirts under their shirts just to be boys.

They don't wear jackets, no matter what the weather.

The theory is that there is a correlation between uniform and exam results.

There is probably a correlation between diligent caring parents from middle-class homes and school uniforms, which might explain the better results, but it's not politically correct to even consider that.

What would happen if there was no uniform? OK, some pupils would turn up wearing totally unsuitable attire. But if they worked hard, would that matter? It seems to me that it creates a deep resentment in adolescents that could be avoided so easily. When I worked in Canada, the kids might have been lazy and unmotivated (just like here), but they had a self-confidence and ease reflected in their clothes that I don't see here.

The whole point was to squash individuality, but don't we want to encourage free-thinking, relaxed and happy pupils?

I know the argument about rich kids being able to afford designer gear. The reality is that nothing, but nothing, shows up poverty more than cheap uniforms. I know the argument about it creating a sense of belonging and corporate pride. I also know that in a town with two schools, it means the kids know at a glance who to jump on.

And as a mum, I know how much it costs, how hard it is to maintain and launder, and I know what a battle it is to get my kids to wear it properly.

I also know it is the ideal starting point for defiance. In some homes, youngsters don't have clean clothes or even food in the house, let alone a school uniform. When these guys make it into school, they should be met with a rousing welcome, not sent home for improper dress.

On "no uniform days", when kids pay a quid to charity and wear their own clothes, there is a delightful relaxed feel about the school. If we need a uniform, couldn't it be jeans and sweatshirt? Comfortable, familiar and looks good too.

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